Demo Driver 8: Gunpoint
Gunpoint is probably closer to a stealth game than a puzzle game, because it reminds me a lot of Mark of the Ninja. Despite the fact that it really doesn’t play like Mark of the Ninja at all.
According to its store page, Gunpoint is a stealth puzzler, but the emphasis is more on the former than the latter. I say this because stealth games are by definition puzzle games; you’re trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B without being caught, shot, or otherwise stopped. What makes for a particularly good stealth game is when the game gives you various tools to accomplish those central objectives, allowing you to go through the stages however you want.
It’s rare for a game to explicitly give you more puzzle-like control over the stage configuration, though, which makes up Gunpoint‘s central gimmick. And it’s a gimmick that works well, no more or less realistic than Watch_Dogs allowing you to hack everything with bizarre results but far more subtle and well-paced in how it plays out. Like Mark of the Ninja, you are a predator in the shadows, but instead of lurking in corners and executing elegant maneuvers, you’re a ghost in the machine.
The story starts off simply enough – noir film refugee Richard Conway tests out his new super-jump trousers by flinging himself out of a plate-glass window, putting him on camera entering a building right before a young woman gets murdered. The woman’s employer immediately contacts Conway, informing him that the cops will happily finger him for the crime that he didn’t commit on that evidence alone. So you need to erase the security files… which seems like the most obvious con in history, but Conway is short on options.
You might think that the jumping would be the central element of the experience, there, but that’s not the case. Sure, being able to jump all over is useful, but Conway’s real trick is access to the Crosslink, a tool that allows Conway to hook into the wiring system of a building and rearrange how various electronic devices work together. Everything starts off with predictable mechanisms, but you can realign the entire building with a few quick clicks. Suddenly an unguarded lightswitch turns off all of the lights in the building, and when a guard goes over to the handprint scanner it shorts out a nearby power outlet instead of opening the door. When your elevator comes up to a give floor, a siren sounds elsewhere, diverting guards. Turning out a light brings the elevator up a floor, and while the guards look at that, you sneak behind them.
You can, mercifully, take out guards if you want to – short out outlets, knock them down and then give them a single quick punch (or several dozen punches to kill them), eventually even shoot them down. Or you can sneak past them without making a sound. Like a good stealth game, you have objectives and tools, but it’s up to you how you’re going to arrange them all together. The end of the level ranks you on your performance, but without being insulting, as taking a lot of time marks you as “thoughtful” rather than “slowpoke.”
It’s solid fun, and there are no single answers for how to proceed. Being something of an impromptu trapmaster can be a blast, rewiring a pair of lightswitches just right so that a guard goes for the switch to turn the light back on and winds up inadvertently trapping himself in a room. (Or electrocuting himself.) If anything, the seduction of setting up elaborate self-imposed traps for the guards is a little too great, so you wind up spending more time on the level trying to create the perfect storm of circumstances and only belatedly realize that you had actual mission objectives at one point.
Less enjoyable is the between-mission upgrade system. It works, but it doesn’t feel as if it adds much to the game beyond a slim choice of abilities and a handful of gadgets which are necessary to proceed beyond a given point. It’s there with no greater purpose than being there.
Beyond that, the game simply oozes style. There are plenty of plate-glass windows complete with options to defenestrate your opponents. The game’s help messages frequently employ just a little bit of snark, like when you insist on repeatedly punching a guard and the game advises you that you only need one punch, then grows increasingly appalled as the punches keep on coming. Everything is done in a pixelated minimalist style that keeps actual blood or detail to a minimum but also gives everything a distinct silhouette, although a few of the electronic bits can look interchangeable at a quick glance. (Luckily, the help system also tells you how things are wired if you can’t immediately distinguish between two clumps of pixels.)
The demo only contains a handful of quick missions, enough to get a sense for the gameplay but not enough to really sink your teeth into it. If that’s not enough, the game also contains tools for making more levels, and it’s the sort of setup wherein you need to only provide the minimal setup to make an interesting sort of layout. Place a few buildings up and have some wiring in place, then unleash hell as players skid elegantly into a security camera’s field of vision and turn off the lights all around.
At $10, if you’ve got any interest in stealth games, this one is an absolute steal. So get in there and wire a guard’s gun up to the hand scanner, thus prompting shock, horror, and a technical lack of violence on your part. Bonus points if you make two of them shoot each other.